About eighteen months ago, I completely abandoned a two-thirds-done Torrie book for which I had no particular deadline in order to work on something that was more urgent. A couple of days ago I went back to it and read it through, thinking it was time I finished it off. I enjoyed it a lot, but I felt a growing anxiety as I read. The … thing, let us call it, the item, the MacGuffin, that Torrie and Wren are guarding and conveying from A to B, the thing, the item, the MacGuffin that C is sending to D, that the brigands of E have been so desperately seeking and that the goblins are also after, in part to prevent E, with which and whom they seem to have a feud of some sort, from getting it — um … why? As a reader, I was eager to find out. As someone who should be presumed to know, I was a bit worried.
I know I used to know. One of nature’s “make it up/discover as one goes along” writers, my stories do often take me by surprise. I had no idea the Blackdog was what he turned out to be until Moth actually told him herself. I was really excited about that. (Which makes me rather peevish about a review that gave that away, as though it were something obvious everyone needed to know before reading the book. May the fleas of a thousand camels infest … ahem. Right. Never curse reviewers, especially when they actually liked the book.) In this case, though, the MacGuffin is the raison d’être of the plot and I know I knew from the start why. It’s just slipped my mind.
Alright, I told myself. I always make notes about the ending and assorted scenes and details at the end of the file, as notions occur to me. It’ll be there. Just enjoy rediscovering the story, so you know where you were. I got to the end of the file. There were a few notes. None had anything to do with the MacGuffin. The story breaks off with two different versions of Torrie getting captured by E; one is clearly better, the other has some nice phrases I wanted to cannibalize. No problem there. No MacGuffin revealed, either in notes or by E twirling her moustaches in a properly villainous fashion as she ties him to the railway track,* announcing just why she wants the darned thing and what she’s going to do with it when she gets it.
Alright. No panic. It’ll be in my notebook, anyway.
Torrie notebook. Torrie notebook. Torrie notebook? Where the heck is my Torrie notebook? Or, my stack of Torrie notebooks, there being a stack of them by this point in Torrie’s career. My study is very small and very full of books and dictionaries and stacks of books and milk-crates of notebooks and heaps of papers, but it’s all organized. I know where everything is, for a certain definition of “know”. I know where the most recent Torrie notebook was two years ago. It isn’t there now; that stack contained three issues of Mallorn, two Amon Hens, the Blackdog notebook, the Moth notebook, two dictionaries, and the proof of a book I was proofreading for someone else a year ago. Also a note saying, “milk. bikkits. bananas.”
Rootling in other stacks and milk-crates has so far turned up among many other things, some old nursery catalogues, the Cassandra notebook, the notebook for an abandoned book I refer to as the Aeneid, and, in fact, the MS of the first Torrie book, which takes us rather far back in the archaeological stratigraphy. It has not, however, turned up a single Torrie notebook, let alone the most recent one. This leads me to conclude that in some mad fit of tidying I put them all together in some logical place.
“Look,” says the Spouse, applying logic to the issue, as he is wont to do, “if you find it, after two years and with your handwriting you won’t be able to read it anyway. Just make up something new.”
Ah, my helpmeet in times of distress and dismay.
On the other hand (since, sadly, he is in fact perfectly correct in this assertion), now I get to discover all over again why everyone is so eager to get their hands, or paws, or claws, on this MacGuffin and how it was going to wrap up the various threads of the plot, once it and all the people desirous of it ended up in the same place, which, according to the notes that do exist, isn’t the maharajah’s palace after all, but a certain small village off in the jungle. That in itself ought to be a clue, I suppose.
Wish me luck.
* A metaphorical railway track, obviously, ’cause it’d be too great an anachronism even for Torrie, otherwise, much as he does like his hat-racks** and tin mugs and tea. Also metaphorical moustaches, E being of the female persuasion and not Lord Abastor/Barramundi. Though he does put in an appearance ….
** Do you know why Cossypha has a hat-rack to hang her sword on in the original Dragon? It’s because Peter Davison’s Doctor had a hat-rack and I always coveted one like it. (Still do.) Sometimes an anachronism is just an anachronism. Sometimes it’s fun.